Raising a Biliterate Child: Set a Good Example

photo courtesy L. C. Ladish

The following is a guest post by Dr. Carlos Ulloa.

Model, Model, Model

What do I mean by model? You are your child’s first teacher and what you say and do will highly influence your child’s bilingual and biliterate self image. Your example and how you approach the world will help carry your child through his or her life. What you do will be imitated. What you say will be repeated, shared, minced and eventually outlast you.

Nurture your child’s two languages and vocabulary by embracing your cultural roots and passing on your favorite dichos y refranes. Those oral proverbs, phrases and saying you have heard your parents, abuelo, abuela, tíos and tías use while growing up are rich with not only wisdom, they cross generations and cultures. Those words carry meaning and will stimulate your child’s thinking and oral language development in two languages.

Children love to learn new words when they are used in the context of a lively conversation. Dichos y refranes also make for an engaging conversation during those transition times during the day; such as commuting, grocery shopping, cooking or getting ready for bed. Talk to your child about the message in your favorite dichos y refranes. Ask him or her what the message in the phrase is trying to convey. Together you can come up with examples to reference the dicho or refran to give the phrase life or find a comparative phrase or saying in your child’s second language. Each time you introduce new words in Spanish or English, you are building knowledge, stimulating connections in the brain and reaffirming how words can get you thinking and wondering in two languages.

Begin writing down those favorite dichos y refranes that personally influence what you most value. Record your thoughts, your child’s thoughts, your parent’s thoughts, your abuelito and abuelita’s thoughts on those favorite dichos y refranes. If you want to get extra creative, begin creating, sculpting or collecting photos to pair with your recorded dichos y refranes.

Although most dichos y refranes can be literally translated, your child will learn that sometimes words get lost in translation or the words just don’t flow so poetically in the other language. Sometimes when translated into English or Spanish you will need less or more words to express your meaning. Your child will learn to appreciate the beauty of two languages through dichos y refranes.

What words do you want your child to own and live by? You may be inclined to go to the web and look up what other people have to say about dichos y refranes. You can go there but if you listen to your own words and reflect on the wisdom passed on to you, those dichos y refranes will come to you. Think about the words you really want to pass on to your own child and you may just hear your mother, father, abuelita or abuelito’s voice in your mind.


Dr. Ulloa y su Tía Chepa

Dr. Ulloa grew up speaking Spanish with his mother and English with his father. He is currently the principal of a dual immersion school in Petaluma, California. Dr. Ulloa has over 22 years of experience as a director of curriculum and instruction, elementary teacher, Descubriendo la Lectura/Reading Recovery teacher and parent involvement specialist. He currently serves as a commissioner on the Instructional Quality Commission (IQC), an advisory board to the California State Board of Education. Ulloa earned his bachelors at San Diego State University in Liberal Studies with a Spanish Bilingual Emphasis, masters degree in Education from Harvard University and doctorate in Educational Leadership at the University of California, Los Angeles. Dr. Ulloa can be contacted at CarlosUlloaJr@gmail.com

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